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In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations' - Thomas Hardy

Analysis of poem for AS level revision
by

Jennifer Evans

on 1 April 2013

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Transcript of In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations' - Thomas Hardy

Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onwards the same
Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by;
War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die. In Time of 'The Breaking Nations' Stanza 1 Stanza 2 Stanza 3 Thomas Hardy In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations' The title of this poem instantaneously highlights a war theme and asks the reader to picture the war in which nations were destroyed because of war, the 'breaking' that occurred because of the fighting.
The start of the title however, 'In Time' implies to the audience that the war is only temporary and reassures them that it will not last forever.
The title is taken from the Bible: Jeremiah, 51:20— “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms.” Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk Hardy creates a typical rural scene for the beginning of the poem, of a farmer using a horse and plough to dislodge the soil and keep it fresh. This could have a double meaning, on one hand it could be showing what England has always been like, but it could also be a metaphor for the disruption that the War has had on the land.
The sibilance used in the second line, 'In a slow silent walk', leads to a soft, slowly paced beginning to the poem, suitable to its slow-moving subject. With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
The horse is helping the farmer with the harrowing, however it could also have been used by Hardy to represent the horse that were used within the war, that had to 'stumble' around and were always 'Half asleep' because they were constantly working.
However, the description of the horse could have been to show the reader the slow pace of rural England that had to continue before, during and after the war. Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass; “Only thin smoke without flame”: contrasts with the terrible fires and destruction of the war. The farmer is burning weed he has pulled from his fields.
This implies to the reader that as the world is still finding a way to go on as it did before even through the destruction of War, that generations will pass but things will always remain the same. Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass. This shows the reader that compared to the war, the conflagration the farmer starts is small, but part of a farming tradition that will continue “the same” as rulers and governments come and go over centuries.
This is supposed to imply to the reader that England is a permanent fixture but War is only temporary. It is a hopeful message as it suggests that there something good after this war and that it will not destroy everything that people work for. Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by; Hardy uses antiquated language to describe the lovers, 'wight' is an old English word used to describe a Knight or a Man.This makes the lovers another timeless element added to this scene, contrasted with the passing horrors of war. It shows the reader that not all beauty and love was taken away during the war.
However, the deliberate quiet of the scene, 'whispering by', in this poem can be a source of criticism In taking refuge in timeless truths, isn’t Hardy running away from the horrific events of today? War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die. Hardy implies to the reader that the lovers can find solitude and peace together and they can distance themselves from the war happening across the channel in France.
However, he also implies that the War's 'annals' , which are a book describing particular years in history will fade away and be forgotten. Yet the lovers' 'story' will be eternal.
Full transcript